University of Illinois Extension


Barbara Larson
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Winnebago & Boone counties

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Color in the Flower Garden

As you review your garden catalogs and plan this year's garden, remember the impact of color. You can create a mood or even a change of perspective in the garden by using certain colors.

Reds, yellows and oranges command attention. Our eyes are drawn to warm colors so plant reds, yellows and oranges in key areas that you want people to see. On the other hand, if you have something in your garden that you want to hide, plant bright yellow flowers opposite the area to draw attention away from the eyesore.

Edge steps or walkways with yellow flowers to catch people's eyes in an attractive way. Color experts say that houses will sell faster with yellow trim or yellow flower borders in front. Although not a guarantee, yellow accents may be worth a try if you are in the house selling market.

Red can have several effects. Bright red flowers planted at the end of a long, narrow property will visually "pull" the end in closer and it won't seem so far away. Red also physically arouses. Studies show that food tastes better around red, so plant red flowers around outdoor eating areas to help stimulate conversation and make food taste better.

Masses of red, yellow or orange annual flowers are guaranteed attention getters. You can find true reds in varieties of salvia, celosia, zinnia, geranium, and wax begonia. Marigolds and zinnias are often used for yellows and oranges, but for something different try dwarf sunflowers, calendula, gazania, gaillardia or nasturtiums. Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) provides brilliant orange in the garden and attracts butterflies too. The warm colored "Pin-Up Flame" begonia, "Profusion Cherry" and "Profusion Orange" zinnias won 1999 All-America annual flower awards. Numerous perennial flowers are warm toned including butterfly weed (Asclepias), canna, cosmos, daylily, Maltese cross (Lychnis), bee balm (Monarda), poppy, red-hot poker (Kniphofia), lily, yarrow, Coreopsis, evening primrose (Oenothera), and Rudbeckia.

If red and yellow excite and draw attention, then blue is the color we perceive as being cool and calm. By planting lots of blue flowers you can create a feeling of coolness - even in a full-sun garden. Lighter blues are better than dark blues. Those 95-degree days will feel cooler in a garden with blue flowers. Blue tones can help widen or lengthen the look of a garden because blue falls back visually. Lots of blue flowers planted along the sides of a long, narrow garden will make it seem wider.

Because blue is the first color to fade from sight as night falls, you may want to incorporate light colors into a blue border if you use your garden more in the evening. Blue tones in annuals are found in petunias, blue salvia, lisianthus, ageratum and lobelia. If you prefer perennials consider blue star (Amsonia), Aster, false indigo (Baptisia), bellflower (Campanula), Delphinium, globe thistle (Echinops), cranesbill (true Geranium), Russian sage (Perovskia), balloon flower (Platycodon), spiderwort (Tradescantia), and speedwell (Veronica).

If you are a very neat, tidy person, then white may be the color for you. Crisp flowerbeds of white will give your garden a well-planned look. Masses of white can be hard on the eyes, so you may want to incorporate other colors as well. White is the last color to fade as night falls. If evening is the only time you have to enjoy your garden, white flowers are a good choice because they can be seen and enjoyed as darkness falls. Most flowers have white varieties. Annuals that deliver good white blooms include petunia, wax begonia, nicotiana, alyssum, and impatiens. White flowered perennials are Goatsbeard (Aruncus), candytuft (Iberis), Lysimachia, Malva, and foamflower (Tiarella).

Green is a good compliment to white because it helps your eyes recover from the strain of bright white. Don't forget the shades of green in leaves as part of your color plan. Variegated or multi-toned leaves add a splash of interest, but extensive use tires the eyes.

What if your taste runs toward lots of different colors? That's great! Just don't over do it. Mixed colors add a festive touch. But, too much mixing can be more disorganized than festive. Repeating three to four colors different places in the garden or flowerbed helps tie everything together. Create transition zones between bright colors with greens and whites. Progress from color to color using intermediate tones. For example, shift from reds to pinks to blues across a bed.

As you dream of summer and beautiful flowerbeds, think about how you want to use color for not only the "look" but also the "feel" you want.

February–March 2000: Are You Ready To Garden? | Pros & Cons Of Snow | Color In The Flower Garden | Butterfly Gardening

Past Issues

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